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FG talks tough, insists Twitter ban is indefinite

By Adamu Abuh (Abuja), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna) and Silver Nwokoro (Lagos)
09 June 2021   |   3:56 am
Despite widespread anger over the ban on Twitter use in the country, indications emerged, yesterday, that the Federal Government is not ready to shift grounds...

Malami logs into the suspended site to deactivate the account
• Gbajabiamila orders probe into the propriety of the ban
• Senate silent as PDP Reps stage walkout, insist on reversal
• CSOs defy FG order, say it will continue Twitter use
• SERAP takes Buhari to ECOWAS court over suspension
• APC urges talented Nigerians to develop homegrown alternatives

Despite widespread anger over the ban on Twitter use in the country, indications emerged, yesterday, that the Federal Government is not ready to shift grounds. 

Coming a day after the government met with some envoys, which ended in both parties sticking to their guns and some very influential clerics continuing the use of the popular micro-blogging platform, a top government functionary, last night, told The Guardian that the ban remains indefinite for now as the administration insists ongoing tough on social media regulation.
“In fact, there will be a public communication today or tomorrow asking all foreign social media companies to register before they can be allowed to operate in the country.”
The source further confided that the outcome of Monday’s meeting of the Minister of Foreign Affairs with envoys of the United State, United Kingdom, European Union, Canada and Ireland may not have the blessing of the presidency.
“The government may have regretted the meeting with envoys, giving the impression the Minister may have acted without the full backing of the full house, that is the Presidency. This is because it is believed Twitter has two standards; one for Nigeria and one for other countries. So, for now, the government is not backing down.”
The inkling of the government’s hard stance on maintaining its position despite public criticism emerged when the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), restated his stand on the ban of Twitter by deactivating his account yesterday.
Only the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari, had similarly deactivated her Twitter account as soon as the ban was announced on Friday. Many top government functionaries and institutions are still maintaining their Twitter accounts.
Many have described the ban as an attempt to gag the media, an attack on press freedom, freedom of expression and an attempt to pass the controversial Social Media Bill.
Malami had on Saturday ordered the prosecution of Nigerians defying the Federal Government’s last Friday’s ban on Twitter as a result of the platform’s deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet even though no Nigerian law makes it illegal to tweet. Sharing a screenshot of his deactivated account on Facebook, Malami wrote: “My Twitter account deactivated.”
The Federal Government banned the use of Twitter for what it described as “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining the nation’s corporate existence.”
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, also directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in the country. NBC as part of implementing the directive has also asked all broadcast stations to suspend usage of their Twitter accounts with immediate effect.
It, however, remains unclear how Malami was able to log into his account since the Twitter URL has been suspended by all Internet Service Providers in the country, save for those who are using the Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to access Twitter. 
Malami’s post received over 1,100 comments about 40 minutes later with many of his Facebook followers asking him how he accessed Twitter without using VPN. A user, Shoyombo Adebisi KingDavid wrote: “Can you explain how you did that without first logging in? This is evidence that you logged into Twitter today via VPN to deactivate your account, which is punishable under your unlawful law. Let us see how you will prosecute others without throwing yourself in jail.”

MEANWHILE, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has ordered the immediate probe of the decision by the Federal Government to ban the usage of Twitter in the country. The decision by the Speaker did not go down well with members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who insisted on the immediate reversal of the ban pending the outcome of an investigation.
Speaking during the plenary of the House, Gbajabiamila directed the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to brief the House on the objectives, intent, and duration of the suspension on the operations of Twitter in the country. The Minister is billed to appear before the House Committees on Communication, Justice, Information and Culture, and National Security and Intelligence chamber within 10 days to clear the air on the matter.

The Committees are to determine the circumstances of the decision and the legal authority for the ban. The Speaker, while acknowledging that Twitter, like other social media networks, is an important tool for communication and commerce in Nigeria, particularly among the younger generation who have used the networks for enterprise and innovation with great success, explained that the report of the Committees will guide further action by the House of Representatives on the matter.
He, thereby, enjoined the Committees to act with speed and sound judgment to address this issue that has animated national conversations over the last few days.
The Senate, however, maintained silence over the government’s decision to ban Twitter in contrast to the decision of their counterparts at the House of Representatives. Nigerians had expected the Senate to highlight the issue during plenary yesterday but mum was the word. Nothing of the sort was listed for discussion on the Order Paper, neither was a motion or Point of Order raised in that regard.
Members of the PDP in the House walked out of the plenary after the Speaker turned down an attempt to ask the Federal Government to review the ban.

IN defiance of the government’s ban, many leaders of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other stakeholders have declared their resolve to keep on tweeting, while damning the consequences.

According to the CSOs in a statement, yesterday, the recent declaration by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to arrest anyone, who convey messages through Twitter would not deter them.
No fewer than 40 signatories signed the statement, challenging the Federal Government’s action to ban Twitter in the country. Among them are Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative (PIN); ‘Yemi Adamolekun, Executive Director, EiE Nigeria; Cynthia Mbamalu, Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa; Hamzat Lawal, Connected Development (CODE)/Follow The Money; Joshua Olufemi, Founder, Dataphyte; Idayat Hassan, Executive Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD); Kolawole Oluwadare, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP); Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani; and Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Edeatan Ojo.
They said that as practitioners, there is no recongnised law across the globe that could ban citizens from accessing information and sharing the same for the best interest of society.

“We stand with Nigerians who continue to exercise their fundamental human rights, especially as we will be celebrating Democracy Day on Saturday, June 12.”
SERAP has, meanwhile, filed a suit at the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) court against the government of President Buhari over the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalisation of Nigerians and other people using Twitter.

In the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21 filed yesterday before the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja, SERAP is seeking an order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government from implementing its suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and subjecting anyone including media houses, broadcast stations using Twitter in Nigeria, to harassment, intimidation, arrest and criminal prosecution, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
In the suit filed by a solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana (SAN), the plaintiffs contend that “if this application is not urgently granted, the Federal Government will continue to arbitrarily suspend Twitter and threaten to impose criminal and other sanctions on Nigerians, telecommunication companies, media houses, broadcast stations and other people using Twitter in Nigeria, the perpetual order sought in this suit might be rendered nugatory.”

According to them, the suspension of Twitter is aimed at intimidating and stopping Nigerians from using Twitter and other social media platforms to assess government policies, expose corruption, and criticize acts of official impunity by the agents of the Federal Government.
He said: “The free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censor or restraints and to inform public opinion. The public also has a corresponding right to receive media output.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and the full enjoyment of this right is central to achieving individual freedom and to developing democracy. It is not only the cornerstone of democracy but indispensable to a thriving civil society.”
Also, prominent civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has admonished the Federal Government to stop the arrogance of power and “display of ideology of dictatorial might is right”  and allow the millions of Nigerian users of the social media platform to continue to enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression and association.
The rights group also asked President Buhari to swallow perceived over-bloated political pride/ego and stop hampering the enjoyment of millions of mostly young Nigerians the economic, social, academic and cultural benefits that come from associating with like-minded talented and creative minds from all over the globe through the social networks provided by the Twitter platform.
HURIWA told the President that it makes no sense that he has become the most widely travelled President during which time he has tried to market Nigeria as a modern-day democracy seeking credible foreign direct investments to boost our domestic economy but only for the same President to unilaterally order the shut down of an economically empowering social media network like Twitter on the nebulous ground that it threatens the national interest of Nigeria.  
The rights group said rather than threaten Nigeria’s national interest, Twitter has mainly provided fertile ground for young Nigerians to seek genuine ways of becoming self-employed through the use of technology.  
HOWEVER, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has enjoined Nigerians talented in the development of social media/software applications to seize the opportunity of the suspension of Twitter operations in the country to develop homegrown applications.
APC in a statement by its caretaker secretary, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, believes that the country has the potentials and talents that can develop alternative and competitive applications to existing platforms in the world.
The party made reference to Russia, which has VKontakte (VK) and China with Weibo, among several homegrown social media platforms to buttress its assertions. The party charged the citizenry to defend Nigeria’s sovereignty by supporting the government’s Twitter suspension in the national interest. 
It noted: “Twitter’s suspension will undoubtedly serve as a positive trigger to unleash the creative potentials of Nigerians in the global digital space. This is a challenge to our vibrant youths with such talents. They will get support in the exercise from relevant federal government agencies as well as the numerous Information and Communication Technology (ICT) training and research establishments in the country.
“The recent announcement by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy that Nigeria will soon start the production of smart-phones and Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards for the African market is evidence that the country has what it takes to make a deep and strong foray into the global ICT industry.”